NEWARK, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s senior staffers and advisers were told about the political revenge plot involving the George Washington Bridge at a time the governor has said he was still largely in the dark, the former bridge authority official testifying in the lane-closing trial said Wednesday.
David Wildstein said in early December 2013, about three months after the town of Fort Lee experienced traffic gridlock, he told Christie’s press spokesman and chief counsel about the scheme, and they told him his explanation would be passed on to Christie’s chief of staff.
The timing is revealing because it wasn’t until January, when emails were released by a legislative committee investigating the closures, that Christie said he discovered the motivation behind the scheme.
In December, he said he believed the official version promoted by Bill Baroni, his top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that the gridlock was caused by a traffic study.
Baroni and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, are charged with closing access lanes to the bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie.
On Tuesday, Wildstein testified he told Michael DuHaime, a top political adviser and close ally of Christie, about the scheme in November 2013, and he has said Bill Stepien, Christie’s then-campaign manager, knew by then, as well.
WASH, RINSE, REPEAT
Wildstein testified Wednesday that Christie’s staff asked him to produce a list of Port Authority employees so the Democrats could be purged.
He said the request came two weeks after he started work at the agency in 2010.
Wildstein, a high school acquaintance of Christie’s and a former political blogger, was director of interstate capital projects, a position created for him.
Wildstein testified on cross-examination that Stepien told him to compile a list of Port Authority employees appointed by previous Democratic administrations.
Asked by Baroni’s attorney if the goal was a “cleansing” of Democrats, Wildstein responded it was.
The Port Authority operates bridges, tunnels, ports and airports in the New York City region. It has been accused of being a haven for governors of both states to send patronage hires.
ON THE TEAM
Wildstein testified Wednesday that he expected to be a part of Christie’s “political future” even after he resigned in the wake of revelations that the resulting traffic jam might have been politically motivated.
On direct questioning by the government, he said Christie senior staffers told him to resign in December 2013.
Wildstein, who testified Tuesday that Christie was told on the third day of the four-day lane closures that there was a traffic jam in Fort Lee and that the mayor’s calls weren’t being returned, said he thought he would take some time off and then play a different role for the governor.
“I had been told by others I was still on the governor’s team,” he said. “I was told the governor was happy I’d stepped up and taken responsibility.”
Wildstein said that assessment came from Stepien and DuHaime.
Wildstein began cooperating with the government in early 2014 and pleaded guilty last year.
Wildstein has been on the stand since Friday testifying against Baroni and Kelly, who accuse Wildstein of conceiving and carrying out the scheme.
Wildstein testified Tuesday that Baroni told the governor about the bridge gridlock while at a 9/11 memorial event on the third day. He said Christie seemed happy about it and joked sarcastically that nothing political was going on.
Last week, Wildstein testified that Christie’s office used the powerful Port Authority to reward local officials whose endorsements were sought during the 2013 re-election campaign.
On Monday, Wildstein testified that he informed Stepien about the plot shortly before it was put into action. A Stepien lawyer denied it, and Stepien —now working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — hasn’t been charged.
Christie has had a busier-than-usual public schedule since the trial began, but he waited until after Wildstein dropped his bombshell on Tuesday to comment on the case.
“I want to be really clear: I have not and will not say anything different than I’ve been saying since January 2014. No matter what is said up there, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments,” Christie said.
The governor is on a list of potential witnesses in the case.